What is it?
“Any vexatious behavior in the form of repeated and hostile or unwanted conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures, that affects [a person’s] dignity.” - Act respecting labour standards, art. 81.18 -
Harassment can take place in many different situations and can take subtle forms. It is not always made up of insults or vexatious and flagrant comments. Harassment can be psychological, sexual, discriminatory or criminal. Harassment can be insidious, is not always flagrant and is not always made up of insults or hurtful comments.
“Unlike flirting, which tends to increase self-esteem, sexual harassment diminishes the victim. It is a form of violence.” - Me Anne-Marie Plouffe, Commission des normes, de l'équité et de la santé et sécurité au travail (translation)
Sexual harassment includes, among other things, unwanted physical contact (touching, pinching, grabbing, brushing up), solicitation of unwanted sexual favours, inappropriate comments of a sexual nature, comments on the victim's body or appearance, jokes that demean the victim's sexual identity or orientation, questions on intimate / private topics, sexual suggestive looks (i.e. at the victim's sexual parts), whistling or displaying of pornography. - (Translation of a publication of the Commission des normes, de l'équité et de la santé et sécurité au travail.)
Sexual comments or behaviour in the workplace are not appropriate, even if some closeness exists between employees or the nature of the work involves nudity or intimate scenes.
For example, discrimination can be related to race, colour, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, handicap or the use of a means to cope with this handicap.
Harassment can become criminal when the harassed person fears for their safety, whether physical, psychological or emotional and the perpetrator knows and disregards this.
Following, communicating with or spying on a person in a repeated manner can lead to charges of criminal harassment which carries sentences such as a maximum imprisonment period of 10 years.
What is consent?
Consent is a person's voluntary agreement to sexual activity, be it touching, a sexual relation or anything else. This agreement must be free of all any constraint, abuse of power or abuse of confidence. In addition, this agreement can be withdrawn at any time or cover only certain activities. For example, a person could accept caressing but refuse penetration.
In the workplace, sexual relations obtained because of a power imbalance with a colleague or a superior can constitute a sexual assault. Since consent is not valid in this situation, this type of conduct can lead to sexual assault charges. Furthermore, threatening a person in order to obtain something, such as sexual favours, constitutes extorsion, which is also a criminal offence. For example, a photographer who forces a model into sexual relations by threatening to reveal compromising photographs commits the crime of extorsion.
Perpetrators of sexual assault face sentences up to life imprisonment, depending on the seriousness of the assault.